Celebrating International Design Day with Architecture, Arts and Design Archivist Harold Housley

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series. In this post, Harold Housley, Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design at Arizona State University Library, describes the uniqueness and challenges of Design and Architecture Collections and offers his interpretation of the International Design Day theme, Suspended in Transition. This interview was conducted by Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Claudia Willett.

Claudia Willett: Let’s start with a brief introduction of yourself to the readers.

Harold Housley: I’ve worked for Arizona State University (ASU) Library since 2007, currently as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design. My previous experience includes working as an archivist for the National Park Service. I am a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and SAA. I earned a Master of Arts in History from Arizona State University and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

CW:  Can you talk about your role as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design?

HH: I am responsible for overall management of Design and the Arts Special Collections, which is primarily an architectural archives and manuscript repository. The collection developed in the 1970s and 1980s out of interest by School of Architecture faculty members in collecting primary and secondary sources on two prominent architects important in Arizona history, Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright. The opening of a new building for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design in 1989 created the space to develop and expand the collection to include architectural drawings and files from prominent architects such as Victor Olgyay, a pioneer in climate-responsive architecture, and Blaine Drake, a former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice and key figure in post-World War II modernism in Arizona.

Desert Cabana (1939), rendering from the Blaine Drake Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

The collection has evolved over the years to include textual records, architectural drawings, presentation boards, and project files that document desert-sensitive design and the development and evolution of mid-century and modern architecture in the Southwest. The greater Phoenix area has a rich history of significant mid-century modern architecture and the presence of the architectural school at ASU has helped the library to acquire the drawings and papers of architects such as Alfred Newman Beadle and Will Bruder.

CW: Can you describe your organization and the collections?

HH: ASU Library has a wealth of archives and special collections resources grouped under Distinctive Collections and Archives, the Labriola National American Indian Data Center, and the Senator John McCain Papers Project. Design and the Arts Special Collections falls under Distinctive Collections and Archives, which also includes Rare Books and Manuscripts, the Child Drama Collection, Greater Arizona Collection, Chicano/a Research Collection, Black Collections and University Archives. The Labriola National American Indian Data Center has both primary source materials (photographs, oral histories, manuscript collections) and a large collection of books, journals, and Native Nation newspapers. The Senator McCain Papers Project processes and manages the papers of longtime Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.

CW: International Design Day is April 27 and the theme is ‘Suspended in Transition’. How does this theme apply to your work or experience with design collections?

HH: I find this theme very relevant to my work as an archivist and probably many other archivists would agree that traditional ways of acquiring and managing collections are in transition and need to evolve to meet the challenges of the present and future. I think other aspects of the theme are also relevant to archivists, such as that the pandemic has fostered the proliferation of new methods of collaboration and communication and created an opportunity to explore alternative ways of doing our work.

CW: Can you talk about some challenges unique to your collections?

HH: The large number of oversize items usually found in architectural collections definitely creates storage challenges. The variety of records found in architectural/design collections means you need to have both traditional archival shelving to accommodate paper records and photographs but also lots of flat filing cabinets for drawings.

Reference also presents some interesting challenges beyond dealing with large-format materials. For example, the access point for many researchers looking at a specific building is the address, which is often not listed in a finding aid. So I have found it useful to have separate drawings inventories that provide those item-level details that help in reference but may not be included in a collection finding aid.

CW: What is something you wish more people knew about Architecture and Design collections?

HH: There are some real “hidden treasures” in architecture and design collections. Examples include designs for buildings that, for one reason or other, were never built. It is fascinating to imagine what a completed building may have looked like. I also really enjoy looking at houses that architects design for themselves. Residential design projects usually involve the architect and client working closely together to bring a design into reality. But when the architect does not need to cater to the wishes of the client, I think there is more freedom to explore a particular theme or experiment in a style without having to answer to an outside client.

House designed by Alfred Newman Beadle for himself and his family, Beadle House 6 (1954), Phoenix; from the Alfred Newman Beadle Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

Architecture and design collections, because of their strong visual appeal, have the ability to connect with everyone. Most architectural collections found in archives are a blend of personal papers and business or professional records, so you have documents, such as correspondence,  that are typically found in other types of manuscript collections. But you also have lots of very eye-catching materials that are works of art, such as full-color architectural renderings. So even if someone has no prior knowledge of or experience using archives, they can appreciate the value of what they are looking at. 

Archival Innovators: Julia Rosenzweig, Minda Matz, and Nora Waters and the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project

This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society. In this installment, COPA member Angie Piccolo interviews Julia Rosenzweig, Minda Matz and Nora Waters about their work on the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project (LEOHP), a project of the the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Photo collage of participants of the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project the graphic logo in the middle, credit Julia Rosenzweig

AP: Please describe the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project. 

Julia, Minda and Nora: The Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project is a project of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a repository committed to collecting and sharing Lesbian stories. Through instructional workshops and interview guides, LEOHP facilitates intergenerational conversations that illuminate the experiences of the interviewees—their joys, challenges, and daily lives—resulting in vibrant oral history interviews. We hope that these Lesbian Elder Oral Herstories will offer experiential insight into the history of Lesbian culture and activism; complementing LHA’s already rich collection. For the purposes of our project Elders includes those 60 and up and, in addition to their life histories, we ask our interviewees to share their experiences or connection with the Lesbian Herstory Archives. This connection to LHA is the unifying theme of the Project, and could mean that they have material in the collection, have visited the space, have volunteered at LHA, they are a part of the herstory, or have used LHA materials in research, art, or writing. 

The Project launched in January 2021 and is supported by a Mellon Foundation Community Archives Grant. As of the end of March 2022 we have had around 100 folks join in conversation with our Informational Sessions and there have been 25 interviews recorded so far. 

AP: Where did the Lesbian Herstory Archives get the idea and what inspired them? 

Julia, Minda and Nora: The Lesbian Herstory Archives was founded in the early 1970’s with the mission of preserving the records and activities of lesbian lives, and the goal of providing community access. Since its inception the Archives has been supported by a vibrant community of volunteers. With the support of donations the Archives was able to open its current home in a Brooklyn brownstone in 1994. 

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, the doors to the brownstone were closed to volunteers and visitors. The idea of an oral history project that could continue the Archives’ mission of collecting the experiences of lesbians while weathering the pandemic—especially the stories of our Elders, who were and continue to be at risk—was a driving force. With the support of the Mellon Grant we were able to focus the concept and goals of the project beyond the tangible outcomes (an oral history interview and transcript) to what we were seeking; which was to replicate the intangible outcomes that LHA supports: community, connections, and knowledge sharing. Through facilitating informational sessions that bring together both prospective volunteer interviewees and interviewers, we create the space to foster these intangible outcomes right at the start of the interview process. 

AP: What challenges or obstacles has your team faced putting this project together? 

Julia, Minda and Nora: The LEOHP was originally conceived as facilitating both remote and, eventually, in-person interviews. We have pivoted to fully remote due to the ongoing nature of the COVID pandemic. However, this has been a positive as it has allowed us to expand beyond traditional geographic limitations when scheduling interviews. We have had interviewers and interviewees connect and share stories from Mexico, Canada, the UK, and across the United States! 

Thanks to a large number of enthusiastic volunteers we do currently have more interviewers than interviewees signed up, which limits participation and we are still seeking more Lesbian Elders to join the Project. 

AP: A few of the interviews have been posted on the website. Can you describe what the initial reaction has been so far from both the public and those involved in the project? 

Julia, Minda and Nora: The initial reaction from the volunteers has been positive! We are honored to be providing the space for Elders to share their herstories, and to be facilitating the intergenerational relationships that have been formed during the interview process. 

Both interviewers and interviewees have expressed gratitude at the opportunity to share their stories and contribute to the collective memory of Lesbians. These interviews can become quite intimate, and the emotional labor required to share these stories have been expressed as both cathartic and taxing. We are thankful for the openness, time, and emotional energy that this requires. It is an aspect that we consider of great importance, and is the genesis of our ethos of an on-going consent approach to the interviews, as well as the participatory transcript reviews. 

Despite our public-facing website showcasing the interviews, we have not yet had any direct feedback from the public. 

Photograph of the front door of the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ brownstone, credit Minda Matz

We are implementing a strategy to promote awareness and more wide-spread dissemination of the interviews. We plan to hold a Community Listening event at the close of the project (the end of 2022). Depending on the mandates and health advisories, we would love to host a hybrid in-person/remote event at the Archives. This event would neatly close out the project by continuing our ethos of encouraging intergenerational dialogue and fostering community, as well as to celebrate the voices that have generously dedicated their time and Herstories to this project. 

AP: Are there any plans to continue the project? 

Julia, Minda and Nora: As of now the interview portion of the project is currently scheduled to wind down at the end of the two year grant period in 2022, but we are hopeful that the grant will be extended so that more voices can be included. Any interviews that are collected will become a permanent part of the LHA collection allowing the Project to live on. In addition to the interviews available on the website there will be a viewing/listening station at the Archives where visitors can immerse themselves in the interviews while being surrounded by the books, ephemera, images, and voices of those that have come before.

Thank You Note, linocut print- artist Nora Waters